Traits of a sociopath

Sociopath is now a retired term in psychology and has been replaced by psychopath. I disagree with that because I think the word psychopath is most commonly associated with mental illness. Sociopath better connotes personality defects which are distinct from illness. I am also suspicious that the psychology profession desperately wants to depict serial killers as mentally defective in order to excuse them from criminal responsibilty and treat them as mental patients. To allow that would be to subject ourselves to yet more dangerous predatory behavior from these criminals, in my view.

Here are the traits that Dr. Robert Hare claims make one a psychopath, which I prefer to call a sociopath. It uses a 3-point scoring system from 0 to 2. You’re not supposed to use this to score yourself, but I did anyway.

1. Glibness/superficial charm (an easy 0 for me)
2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
3. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (I got a 2 on this one)
4. Pathological lying
5. Conning/manipulation
6. Lack of remorse or guilt
7. Shallow affect
8. Callous/lack of empathy
9. Parasitic lifestyle
10. Poor behavior controls
11. Promiscuous sexual behavior
12. Early behavior problems (another 2)
13. Lack of realistic, long-term goals
14. Impulsivity
15. Irresponsibility
16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17. Many short-term marital relationships
18. Juvenile delinquency
19. Revocation of conditional release (guess that refers to parole violators)
20. Criminal versatility (Not just a criminal, but a multi-faceted one? Serial killer who steals valuable art, embezzles from his employer runs for election to office?  I’ve read about some of those, but only in novels)

A psychology professional is supposed to use this to build a profile of a person to determine whether they can be classified as a psychopath. They are supposed to do an interview that should last up to 3 hours and have access to collateral sources such as criminal records for verification. The person is scored by giving points from 0 to 2 for each trait. Having none of a trait is a 0, showing some respects of a trait is a 1, and a score of 2 if the trait is present in all respects. A perfect score (perfectly bad, that is) is 40; a score of 30 and above marks one a psychopath. All people have some of these traits, and a specific cutoff seems shaky to me. A 29 is not a psycho but a 30 is? Too imprecise, I’d say. Psychopathy is not as definite as pregnancy. I’d say it this way: Too close to 30 should raise eyebrows; Anyone above 30 is likely to be a problem; those within a few points of 40 should be considered dangerous. But then, there a lots of people who might score 10 and are also dangerous. Having a good 6th sense is still a valuable attribute.

The problems with this little test abound. The biggest one is that while probably all psychopaths are people you probably wouldn’t want to know, most psychopaths are not criminals. That alone is enough reason not to allow the psychology profession to use this test to excuse criminal behavior.

The incidence of psychopathy in the general population ranges from 1 in 25 to 1 in 250, depending on what you read.  Either way, most people you know, no matter what you think of them, are not psychopaths.  It could be a close call in many cases, though.

I self scored a 14, being as objectively hard on myself as I could. Good news. If you double my self score, I’m still not a psychopath.

If you’re particularly brave have your spouse score you. Mine’s out of town so couldn’t.

This could lead to some interesting conversation: “I knew it! Your’re a psychopath!”

NOTE: Trait No. 7, Shallow Affect, might not be obvious. I looked it up and it refers to a person who occasionally shows deep emotions but an objective observer would see it as an insincere and shallow display. Homicide detectives with years of experience may become experts in detecting this trait in suspects.

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